Welcome to the newest edition of By The Horns, a newsletter covering the Durham City Council. This series is intended to help guide those attempting to understand the mechanics of Durham city government, stay informed on issues throughout Durham, and learn the tools necessary to be a more engaged citizen.
I’d like to start by giving thanks to City Council for making Monday’s meeting one of the shortest I’ve ever been a part of. We were in and out in under two hours! It helps when most of the General Business agenda items aren’t that controversial. Nonetheless, can’t take those short meetings for granted. Time is our only non-renewable resource.
In solidarity with my friends on council, I will try to keep this week’s newsletter brief. After our normal rundown, I have a couple of fun updates to share about the By The Horns project.
Call to Order
A Brief Summary of the Meeting
- Councilperson Holsey-Hyman presided over the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims Proclamation (her remarks here). Most of you know that this issue is close to my heart. As a full-time bike commuter, I live with the fear of traffic violence everyday, as do my loved ones. Allison Simpson, who spoke on behalf of the proclamation, now lives with the consequences after her husband Matt was killed by a driver in July. Her heartfelt testimony should be heard by everyone. Durham is growing. This problem isn’t going away.
- Multiple members of council touched on other tragedies that have recently befallen our communities, both near and far: the terrible crash at the Raleigh holiday parade that killed an 11-year-old girl, the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the school shooting at University of Virginia, and the continued gun violence right here in Durham. Opening an otherwise uplifting meeting with these moments of mourning was difficult but necessary.
- The General Business Agenda consisted of two annexations and three zoning map changes. The first annexation was pushed back on request from the applicant’s representation. Two of the zoning map changes were for a new elementary school in South Durham, and a “collaborative learning and resource center” at NCCU. Hooray for education!
We Must Protect This House
The other zoning map change was for a small parcel of land (0.818 acres) at 1402 Holloway Street in East (downtown?) Durham.
The applicant, Dana LaBerge, and his team at DKL Housing Solutions made an ambitious proposition to council: 28 new apartment units, 14 affordable (50%). For comparison, many recent proposals for townhouse communities with hundreds of housing units have averaged roughly 1-3% affordable units, though the projects often donate to the city’s Dedication Housing Fund.
Affordable housing is THE issue in Durham right now through which all other issues originate. Solving our housing problem will take collaboration from community members who see development as more than just a financial opportunity. LaBerge’s proposal is admirable, but doing affordable housing compared to building market-rate units is unfortunately harder in today's free market. Council offered their support beyond voting 7-0 in favor of the proposal. Members went out of their way to commend LaBerge for taking on this “herculean task” and suggested grants and other incentives to see the project through.
This proposal came at a serendipitous moment for me. For folks not on Instagram, I published a short 1-minute long video on Sunday about development happening in this neck of the woods. The creep of gentrification has already made its way into the outer rim of downtown. To see projects aimed at forfeiting our protections against displacement is encouraging. Let it be a clarion call to other developers that this is how we build in Durham.
There’s just too many names, acronyms, procedures, and other important information to remember each time they come up in a meeting. In an early edition of By The Horns, I mentioned creating a resource guide as a way to keep track of it all. Over the weekend, I gave the guide some much-needed TLC. You’ll now find new items as well as new sections like “DATA” and “NOTABLE ORGANIZATIONS” to make it easier to navigate. In the future, you’ll find a link to the resource guide at the top of each newsletter under the link to the Meeting Agenda.
By The Horns, Phase 2
Since starting this project, I’ve learned a ton about city government, and hope you have to. But with every answer comes more questions. I’m not complaining! Publishing this newsletter has been incredibly fun and rewarding. When I told my friend Don about By The Horns yesterday, he said he’d never heard someone use “fun” and “city council meeting” in the same sentence. But I bet my fellow Council Watchdogs (working title) would agree that the meetings can be quite entertaining. I expect to see you at the next one, Don.
In addition to bolstering the resource guide, I’ve been exploring a few ideas around publishing content akin to a “how-to” or “Durham city government for dummies.” An expansion on the Civics 101 section. Learning about issues during city council meetings can be demoralizing if you don’t know what to do about them. These posts would be a walkthrough for things like how to find out who owns land in your area, or how to start a neighborhood association. Consider this the next step in our political evolution; turning knowledge into action.
That’s as much as I’m willing to spoiler for now. Be on the lookout for an even bigger project announcement at the top of next year.
Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!